HC Deb 21 April 1959 vol 604 cc220-3
The President of the Board of Trade (Sir David Eccles)

With your permission, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I will make a statement about a trade delegation to the U.S.S.R.

After useful preliminary discussions with the Soviet Ambassador in London, Her Majesty's Government proposed to the Government of the U.S.S.R. that I should lead a small trade delegation to Moscow next month. The Soviet Government have welcomed this proposal. The delegation's purpose will be to negotiate an agreement affording increased scope for the trade between our two countries.

The composition of the mission is under consideration. I shall invite two or three businessmen of standing to join the delegation as advisers, particularly on Russian exports to the United Kingdom.

Mr. Jay

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the despatch of this mission, which we have pressed on him, will be welcomed generally in the House and throughout British industry? Can he say what sort of increased scope of trade is hoped for, and, also, whether the mission will be confined to negotiating a trade agreement, or whether some of the unofficial members will proceed to the actual working out of business contracts?

Sir D. Eccles

It is impossible to say what the increase of trade may be, because that very largely depends on the arrangements we are able to make with the Russians to take up contracts which we know they already wish to place here. It is not a mission to get orders. It is a mission to establish the right framework within which businessmen can act afterwards.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

In view of the heavy rate of unemployment in Scotland, will the Minister see that Scotland is strongly represented on this mission?

Sir D. Eccles

I do not think that any representatives on the mission will have any particular interests of that kind. They will merely be advisers on the general question of increasing the trade in both directions.

Mr. Chetwynd

Will the mission have power to deal with the strategic list, and recommend any changes, where necessary?

Sir D. Eccles

No, the strategic list will not be under discussion.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the question of extended credits will come under consideration?

Sir D. Eccles

The Russians have made no request for long-term credits. With regard to medium-term credits, I made some reference to them in the debate on the Budget.

Mr. H. Wilson

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he envisages the conclusion of a Government-to-Government trade agreement, or whether it is just an exploratory discussion? Can he also say whether the Soviet Union have raised with Her Majesty's Government the question of supplies of Russian oil to this country, and, if so, what answer the Government have made to that proposal?

Sir D. Eccles

Of course, we hope to make a trade agreement, which will not include bulk purchase from this side. It will include the facilities which will enable our people and the Russians to do more trade with each other. As I think the right hon. Gentleman heard me say in the Budget debate, we have told the Russians that we are not at present able to authorise the import of oil into this country.

Sir A. Hurd

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it may be most useful to Russia and also to this country if any buying we do in Russia will be mainly of raw materials—I am thinking particularly of barley, potash or phosphates for fertilisers and that kind of thing—rather than finished manufactured materials?

Sir D. Eccles

I think that the Russians have a traditional trade in coarse grains and we intend to discuss that with them. They also wish to have some opportunities to sell their finished goods. I think that if we are to sell a great many more finished goods there, we shall have to look at that.

Mr. Rankin

Is the President of the Board of Trade making it quite clear that this mission will be restricted in its discussions by the agreements which were reached last October by Cocom, at its meetings in Paris?

Sir D. Eccles

Certainly, the strategic list, which is agreed between 17 countries, governs the exports which are made from this country, and it is very clear that the Russians wish to have a very large range of goods which do not come under the strategic ban.

Mr. Short

Will the right hon. Gentleman take a rather wide view of the word "trade", and bear in mind, for example, shipbuilding? Is he aware that a number of Russian orders have just been given to Western Germany, while a number of such orders in Britain, in places like the Tyne, would be extremely useful at present?

Sir D. Eccles

I will keep that in mind.

Dr. Stross

Is the President of the Board of Trade aware that the Russians import consumer goods, for example, pottery from China, Czechoslovakia and Italy, and that in the past they got the very best pottery from Stoke-on-Trent? Will he bear in mind that this is available, and bring that fact to their notice?

Sir D. Eccles

I agree with the hon. Member that some of the dessert services sent from Stoke-on-Trent to Russia are among the best in the world. I will certainly keep that fact in mind.

Mr. Shinwell

How can the President of the Board of Trade go to Russia next month if there is to be a General Election?

Mr. Fernyhough

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Co-operative movement in this country has had a longstanding trade agreement with the Soviet Union? Does he not therefore think that it would be helpful if people who have conducted negotiations for a long period formed part of the delegation?

Sir D. Eccles

I really need advice about Russian exports to this country. There appear to be plenty of orders which the Russians wish to place here, and as they are organised as a state trading body I do not think the mission is quite the means by which to try to make contracts.

Mr. Zilliacus

In connection with the question of exports from the Soviet Union, would the right hon. Gentleman consider the possibilities of triangular trade through Comecon so that we can arrange with the Soviet Government for Soviet imports from here over a wide range, enabling us in exchange to receive more exports from the whole of this group of countries?

Sir D. Eccles

We are very ready to consider anything to increase trade between the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union.

Mr. Swingler

Would the right hon. Gentleman consider taking his colleague the Minister of Education with him in order to widen his knowledge of commerce?